Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Can I Ever Tame (even manage?) my Genea-Monster?

Reader Tessa made a comment on my post Tuesday's Tip - Keep your Genealogy To-Do list(s) up to date (13 September 2011), Tessa said:

"Some quick questions regarding this tip (great tip as I am currently updating my to-do lists).
1. why don't you use the to-do list in a genealogy database program - they appear to be keyed to individuals as well as general to-dos?
2. why do you delete finished to-dos? Do you ever find you redo a to-do?
3. why do you keep a separate research log?
4. how do you coordinate your genealogy database with your word processing documents?

"I am trying to find the most efficient way to keep my to-dos and wonder how yours works in practice. Thanks so much for sharing."

Thank you for the questions Tessa - they are logical, and point out some of my idiosyncrasies,  inconsistencies and failures.

My answers:

1.  I have never used the to-do lists in genealogy software.  I probably should do that, but I haven't.  My mind set was that I would have to print out each to-do list from each of the ancestral families that I wanted to research in the libraries and archives.  Of course, if I had checked my RootsMagic program more carefully, I would have seen that they have several types of To-Do lists to use, and they can be printed out either separately or as one general list.

Some of the resources I wanted to access had information on a number of my ancestral families.  I chose to make a to-do list that listed the resources, and noted the ancestral names to review.  That list totaled 14 pages, so it was fairly efficient (in my mind).

2.  My last resource to-do list was dated February 2011, and included books and periodicals.  Some of the items on the list had been already reviewed and notations were made on my list.  I saved those notations, then made an updated list for September 2011 that deleted those resources I had already reviewed, then added many more items to the resource to-do list. 

I do sometimes re-do a to-do, especially when I find a new ancestral family that may be in a specific resource.  My effort to document in which resources I've found information for a specific family was described in I'm almost ready now to go research! (2 September 2011).  I try to avoid a re-do by keeping the Source Reference Lists up-to-date.

3)  I started out having a Research Log for each surname, on paper in my notebooks, but I have not kept them up-to-date.  Bad Randy!  I should have, and know it... but I haven't... since the 1995 time frame  I don't keep a general research log of everything I do at repositories or online (not enough fun...the hunt is lots more fun!).  Rather than have a paper or digital research log, I try to summarize (or transcribe) the information I gather into the Notes in my genealogy software program, along with the source information.  Therefore, my Notes for each person includes a summary of my research on that person. 

4)  Coordinating my genealogy software database with my word processing documents (and by extension, photocopies from books and periodicals, and saved web pages) is a challenge for me.  I have 30 linear feet of paper in notebooks, another two feet in paper piles, and thousands of downloaded webpages, computer files, microfilm images, record images and book images on my computer hard drive.  Getting all of that into my genealogy software database (which includes over 40,000 persons collected along the way), properly sourced and with media files attached, is a lifetime of work.  After 23 years, I'm still working on it, and will never finish it.

Like topsy, the problem started early and just grew into a paper monster and now a computer file monster, and I'm just trying to keep my head above my desktop.  It didn't help that I brought back another three inches of paper photocopies, and about 400 photographs (including some of records), from my recent vacation. 

I do have a choice - keep feeding the genea-monster as best I can (complaining all the way, but it's a lot more fun to keep researching and writing), or completely reorganize my files at the expense of all other genealogy activity over a period of years (a boring task...).  I can always use my genea-monster as a bad example and hope that readers will learn from my experiences. 

Tessa - I don't know if you learned anything about "To-Do List Best Practices" in the discussion above.  I encourage you, and other interested readers, to read articles, attend seminar/conference programs, and watch webinars about research and file organization. 

I hope that readers will share their own organization ideas, or those prevously published by others,  and the ways they have tamed their paper and digital genea-monsters.


Aylarja said...

This post raises my bugaboo that today's standard genealogy software needs to progress from being little more than a pretty interface layered on top of a family tree database to being a more-robust research tool. The To-Do list only barely qualifies as a research tool - the potential is so much greater.

Ideally, genealogy software should include tools for managing, tracking, and prioritizing research tasks. These tools should be integrated within the application so that the tools can suggest research tasks (such as documenting relationships and events where evidence is missing or insufficient), and so that updating an entry resulting from a research task will also update the task. Recording source materials used in research should also allow creation of references made from those source materials.

Some of this functionality could be provided through an add-on or external tool, but the benefits of an integrated toolset would probably be diminished.

Beyond that, I typically use spreadsheets to record my research and store them in my free SkyDrive account so that I can reference them wherever I am.

Steve Hayes said...

I was very surprised to discover that you didn't us the to-do list feature of your genealogy program. I've found it enormously helpful and have blogged about it at Hayes & Greene family history: Using to-do lists in genealogical research. It can save a lot of time.

Unknown said...

NOT a formal way towards progress, still I have a rule that clears some things up fairly quickly when I apply it.

Grab a handful of papers from the unsorted "to-do" pile, and work on the first one until you have TRULY processed it; i.e., write it up, enter it in the program, and or file it; or discover it's a duplicate and discard it; you get the picture. If less than 15 minutes have passed go to the next one. At the end of that short time span, put the rest of the papers back on the pile, do DO THIS EVERY DAY (certain vital exceptions may be made). That stack WILL BE SMALLER by the end of the month (unless you go on research and add to the bottom of the pile in the meantime). Still the ORIGINAL stack has shrunk, you had achieved some organization, and you still have time for fun.